Finding a Voice: Five Ways to Develop Resilience through Liberal Arts Education and LifeJose Coll | Fellow, American Council on Education
My (Jose’s) 18-year-old son, who graduated from high school in May, told me he was excited to be done with high school. As he prepares to enter higher education at Saint Leo University, Jose’s alma mater, he was reminded (as Jose reminds himself on a daily basis), that he or she who seeks light must continue the journey.
Therefore, if light (in this case, knowledge) is the ultimate objective, we should explore the steps one takes in the pursuit of light (i.e. or a meaningful and satisfying life), which we can all work on.
These tenets are based on the teachings of a liberal arts education. We remind you the major principles of a liberal arts education is it allows us to explore the philosophical tenets of existence, from the arts to biology to economics and to history. The liberal arts provide a confirmation of a complete reality, while at times challenging perceptions of truth and social justice.
Without this well-rounded education, we would all be silos operating in over-specialized cubicles, never knowing what others are doing.
Develop a Purpose
The first tenet we propose comes from Viktor Frankl, the existentialist and Holocaust survivor who devoted his life to inspire and teach others on how to live a life of purpose and meaning. It was this sense of meaning that enabled him to survive the atrocities of the concentration camp experience. He suggests individuals should develop a purpose in life; a purpose in life gives us direction and allows us to reevaluate our paths and values while stopping to adjust and reflect on our actions.
In seeking a purpose, many of us, young and old, will have the opportunity to explore higher education and have the pleasure of attaining a master’s degree, a bachelor of arts or an associate of arts degree through the foundation of a liberal arts education.
Education opens your mind to possibilities and this enables a sense of purpose and meaning.
Create an Identity
The second tenet is to establish an identity. Identity development is a fluid phenomenon, which changes over time. A liberal arts education aims to empower students to ensure their voices are heard and to teach them to question everything. From the institutions to ourselves, we can get perspectives on major questions such as, “Who am I? A husband? Wife? Son? Daughter? Professional? Migrant farm worker?”
Remember who you are is not what you do necessarily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a daily basis, but what you leave behind, how you mentor others and lead when others flee. Beware of psychological invisibility in which the stereotypes and stigmas ascribed by society, particularly towards marginalized groups, overshadow and depersonalize your being. Therefore, no matter where you are in life, be heard, be assertive, be proud and be a hero of your time. Look to Greek mythology for the transformation and development of heroes in the face of tremendous obstacles and three-eyed monsters.
Determine Your Values
Third, you gain the ability to create and adhere to values. Irvin Yalom, existential psychiatrist, said, “The way to value life, the way to feel compassion for others, the way to love anything with greatness and depth is to be aware that these experiences are destined to be lost.” 
I ask of you to develop your own values; add to those presented and adhere to them. Live a life of transparency, not needing to hide or evade, but one of sharing and of humility.
Understand How to Communicate
The fourth tenet comes to us from author Miguel Ruiz, who introduced us to the Toltec wisdom through the agreements that lead us to transformation. Here, we learn the concept of integrity, where he states, “Be impeccable with our word,” which means that words create stories and one needs to be careful not to use words against ourselves or others.
In other words, liberal arts can grant students the power of language (and to not allow what others say about you to influence who you are). Verse yourself in the classics and literary traditions and understand the usage of language, choosing to be morally and ethically responsible with it. Look to the Ten Commandments that have been the foundation of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (against blasphemy, hate speech and slander). Refer to the Socratic dialogues of Plato that offer us teachings on ethics, philosophy, mathematics and rhetoric.
The last tenet is to dream. Never stop dreaming and wishing. Dreams are simple, bountiful sources of information about the people and places of the past but, more importantly, of where you want to be, what you want to attain and how you can succeed! Follow author Paulo Coelho through the magical fable of fate and the wisdom of listening to your heart (and to the omens along the path of life) that will lead to the fulfillment of dreams. Believe in yourself and in the process (or path), even if it is filled with obstacles along the way.
What all of these tenets share is a process of transformation through resilience, which will be further explored in the conclusion.
This is the first of a two-part series by Coll and Weiss exploring the value of liberal arts education for adult students.
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 Irvin Yalom, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008)
Author Perspective: Administrator
I appreciate the point Coll and Weiss are making, but I’m not convinced all adult students need to pursue education in this way.
Many adult students are returning to college (or entering for the first time) with specific goals in mind to advance their careers or make a major career change. To that end, I believe they are looking for more “practical” degrees that teach job-related skills as opposed to more “philosophical” programs. I agree it’s important for students to develop their minds to think creatively, but many adult students have already done so through the breadth of their life experience. They don’t necessarily need to “find themselves” through postsecondary education.
Reading this piece reminded me of St. John’s College and other liberal arts colleges that use the “Great Books” curriculum for all undergraduate students. Like Coll and Weiss, these colleges recognize the importance of a liberal arts education in producing well-rounded individuals.